One tradition I particularly enjoy during the Christmas season is singing carols and songs. One of my favorites is The Twelve Days of Christmas.
The carol has its roots in 18th-century England. Several theories exist regarding the meaning of the lyrics. One suggests the song was a memory-and-forfeit game sung by British children. In the game, players had to remember all the previous verses and add a new verse at the end. Those unable to remember a verse paid a forfeit, a kiss or a piece of candy, to the others.
Another theory connects the carol to the era when Catholicism was outlawed in England, 1558-1829. That source says the carol was a song to help young Catholics learn the faith, which could not be openly practiced in Anglican society. Here are the verses with their suggested meaning, according to that interesting but unsubstantiated theory:
- A Partridge in a Pear Tree – Jesus Christ
- Two Turtle Doves – The Old and New Testaments
- Three French Hens – The three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity
- Four Calling/Collie Birds – Four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
- Five Golden Rings – First five books of the Old Testament
- Six Geese-a-Laying – Six days of creation before God’s rest on the seventh day
- Seven Swans-a-Swimming – Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Eight Maids-a-Milking – Eight Beatitudes
- Nine Ladies Dancing – Nine fruits of the Holy Spirit
- Ten Lords-a-Leaping – Ten Commandments
- Eleven Pipers Piping – Eleven faithful disciples
- Twelve Drummers Drumming -Twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed
The Twelve Days of Christmas refer to the 12-day period from Dec. 25, celebrated as the birth of Jesus, to the day before Epiphany, which is actually celebrated on Jan. 6 as the day when the three kings/wise men visited the baby Jesus.
Regardless of which explanation you choose to accept, observing the Twelve Days of Christmas is a good way to extend our remembrance of the birth of Jesus, the reason for the season!
Merry Twelve Days of Christmas!